Henry Shull ’13 thought he would follow in his parents’ footsteps. Shull’s mother and father are lawyers who went into public service, so he assumed he would go to law school after college. The more he talked with his Housemates, however, the more he realized that he didn’t really know what he wanted to do. That’s when he showed up on the doorstep of Harvard’s Office of Career Services (OCS).
“I met with Nancy Saunders [director of undergraduate career programming and advising],” Shull said. “She helped me broaden my outlook and consider careers in journalism, government, and public policy. Now I’m applying for summer internships at publications like Time and the Washington Monthly, at think tanks like the Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations, and at government offices like the U.N. Office at Nairobi and the U.S. Agency for International Development.”
As undergraduates like Shull turn their thoughts to life after Harvard, OCS strives to help them prepare for work and graduate school. Director Robin Mount said that she and her colleagues try to acquaint students with the wide range of options available to them after graduation, from jobs and internships, to professional school, to international fellowships and travel.
“We’re the on-campus hub for students looking to explore opportunities after graduation,” Mount said. “We offer advising, either on a drop-in basis or by appointment; mock interviews; résumé critiques and workshops; the online Crimson Careers employer database; and much more. We’re here to help students choose their next experience.”
If recent OCS survey data is any indicator, approximately 60 percent of the Class of 2013 will likely choose work for their next experience after college. Mount said that, contrary to stereotypes, most new alumni do not go into finance or consulting.
“Despite what you read in a lot of articles, only 12 percent of last year’s graduating seniors planned to work in the financial sector, and only 9 percent in consulting,” she said. “Jobs in marketing, communications, media and the arts, at 11 percent, were almost as popular as finance. And the organization that hired the most members of the Class of 2011 was not an investment bank. It was Teach For America.”
While most students likely will go right to work, OCS officials said it’s unlikely that these first jobs will turn into careers. That’s because recent alumni are still exploring their talents and passions. Close to 70 percent of Harvard students eventually return to school to earn a graduate degree. OCS’s Nancy Saunders said that students who want to pursue an academic or professional degree can come to her and her OCS colleagues for help navigating the College’s robust advising structure.
“Students can benefit from the combined support of faculty, House tutors, and OCS advisers when considering graduate or professional school,” she said. “The decision to pursue a higher degree in an academic discipline begins with the support and guidance of faculty. OCS advisers can help students better understand the important role that faculty play in recommending students for highly competitive master’s and Ph.D. programs. For professional degree programs, including medical, law, and business school, OCS advisers work closely with House tutors to provide information and preparation for the application process, as well as helpful advice for choosing programs that best suit the student’s needs.”
Undergraduates considering graduate school might meet with a counselor such as Lee Ann Michelson, OCS’s director of premedical and health career advising. Michelson helps students identify the reasons for their interest in a medical career. She also encourages them to test that interest through clinical experience, which they often obtain by taking a year off between college and graduate school. If students are set on pursuing a career in medicine, Michelson helps them to think from the perspective of an admissions officer and to craft an application along those lines. That means, among other things, demonstrating that they can adapt and learn in a field where knowledge is constantly changing.
“A Harvard Medical School faculty member once said that 50 percent of what he learned in medical school, he had forgotten,” Michelson said. “He said that the other 50 percent was obsolete.”
Matthew Young ’12 starts at Harvard Medical School this August. He says that Michelson and her colleagues helped him to get the experience he needed to prepare for graduate study, and then worked with him to make his application a success.
“OCS helped me enter the Weissman International Internship Program, which funded a summer-long trip to Paris to work at the Pasteur Institute on malaria,” Young said. “Lee Ann and [Assistant Director] Oona Ceder also helped me think about what to focus on in my medical school personal statement.”
While the options for Harvard graduates may be virtually limitless, Mount said it’s important for students to remember that almost anything worth doing will take plenty of hard work. She points to recent pro basketball sensation Jeremy Lin ’10 as a model both of the horizons open to undergraduates and of the persistence it takes to reach them.
“Jeremy is a great example of the different paths available to students after graduation, and of trying until you succeed,” she said. “It’s hard work to land jobs and internships and to get into graduate school. Students are often disappointed with how much work it’s going to take. But that’s the process.”
Shull says that he has found plenty of support for his career exploration process at OCS. He encourages fellow undergraduates to leverage the office’s resources as they make plans for life after college.
“OCS has strengths in a lot of different areas,” he said. “They have advisers dedicated to international programs, publishing, law, medicine, public service, marketing, advertising, and more who’ve helped me to explore and broaden my outlook. This summer I’ll do an internship, and my idea of what I want to do will evolve from there. That’s one of the better things OCS has done for me. They’ve helped me see that it’s OK to try things out and not limit my options.”